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Does Agile Dispense with Project Managers?

| by Deborah Hartmann Preuss Follow 0 Followers on Aug 05, 2006. Estimated reading time: 3 minutes |
Agile methodologies do away with many of the tasks by which Project Managers formerly measured their own performance: they are no longer required to manage the triple constraints of cost, schedule, and scope.  Product Owners and Development Teams are now accountable for these activities.

So, traditionally trained project managers experiencing the shift to Agile are often confused as to what their new roles and responsibilities should be in an environment that no longer requires them to make stand-alone decisions.  Some have invested significant effort to obtain Project Management Institute (PMI) certification, studying the practices (now obsolete?) in the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK).

Though not often voiced, the question looms: "Am I redundant?"

The good news is: a good PM's skillset is more needed than ever. 

Agile coach Michele Sliger's white paper: A Project Manager's Survival Guide to Going Agile focuses on re-defining the job of project manager to better fit the self-managed team environment.  Special emphasis is placed on the shift to servant leadership, with its focus on facilitation and collaboration.  Sliger maps PMBOK knowledge areas to Agile practices and discusses the correlation at length.  Note that Michele is both a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a certified Scrum Master Practitioner.  Her paper offers project managers a better understanding of the changes they need to make professionally, and how to make them, in order to survive the transition to an Agile software development approach. 

The need to adapt is not just the manager's responsibility, though.  Teams that forge ahead with Agile practices without involving their managers do themselves a disservice - management has a significant role to play in protecting the team's ability to produce software, especially as the effects of their improvements ripple outward and show up bottlenecks in other parts of the organization. 

In addition, in large organizations, the Project Management Office will be involved, and Sliger includes a section specifically addressed to the PMO, encouraging them to remember that change takes time, and project managers at all levels should take the time to work to prepare themselves and others to make the transition.

Diana Larsen and Esther Derby, in their article "You're Still Needed", summarize Agile manager activities under four categories: manage the project boundary, manage team membership, manage risks, and act as Team Champion.  Larsen and Derby conclude that the focus will shift, and the team will take on much of the work planning and progress tracking that, in traditional approaches, is strictly managerial domain. But managers will still be practicing their most important skills: coaching and encouraging team members, making sure they have the resources they need, removing obstacles, and influencing peers and managers outside the team.



Further Reading:

Managing Agile Projects, Mike Cohn and Ken Schwaber (article)
One of the common misperceptions about agile processes is that there is no need for project management, and that agile projects run themselves. However, agile processes still require project management - this article looks at the reasons why.

Using Agile Alongside the PMBOK, Mike Griffiths (article)
As use of both Agile and traditional project management methods continues to grow, the need for guidelines on how the two may be used together increases. This paper also examines the origins and key elements of each method.

Agile Project Management : Creating Innovative Products, Jim Highsmith (book)
The essence of the Agile movement rests on two foundational goals: delivering innovative products to customers (particularly in highly uncertain situations) and creating working environments in which people look forward to coming to work each day.

Agile Project Management with Scrum, Ken Schwaber (book)
This second book on the Scrum Methodology uses real examples to clarify the finer points of this software development approach. Includes the basic rules of Scrum in an appendix.

Agile and Iterative Development: A Manager's Guide, Craig Larman (book)
From business case to successful implementation. This is the definitive guide for managers and students on Agile practices: what they are, how they work, how to implement them—and why you should. This book is a standard text in many universities.  It looks at the key practices of Scrum, XP , and RUP/EUP.  Each chapter has something useful to shorten the learning curve, as this is a distilled learning aid.

Managing Agile Projects, Sanjiv Augustine (book)
Draws on many diverse disciplines to augment and to extend agile methodologies, including complexity theory, organizational learning, and lean thinking. Primarily a book for individuals who have been gifted with, or are aspiring to, the privilege and responsibility of leading agile project teams.

Radical Project Management:, Rob Thomsett (book)
Introduces XPM: Project Management for today's complex, chaotic business environments. Provides innovative new XPM tools: how to make them work in your organization.

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Do We Really Need a Project Manager? by Boris Gloger

Most of us still have the wrong concept in mind: A project manager shall run the teams or the project. The project manager is NOT needed in its traditional sense of being responsible for the project anymore. One of the problems of project managers was always that they had the responsibility of delivering the project. Both sides: Customer and Vendor put their own responsibility down. Now they had someone who was responsible.

We need a different kind of thinking - different role, a different approach to run a project.

Yes -- we need to find a solution, what to do with all these project managers who got trained by companies. And who walked this career path.

The sad thing is -- they might not have the skill-sets we need in an ongoing changing world.

To put this thought further - do we need projects? Software development projects will have an end. They do have this by definition, but is the project really over? What is with applications that have a life time of 25 years. The project is over, but the application is still alive. Is the term project maybe only an artificial construct, that enable us to start something with an defined end goal?

When we are going agile, then we need to start questioning the fundamentals instead of finding new job descriptions for obsolete project managers.

I do not say that we do not need the people, but we do not need the position anymore - maybe - just some thoughts.

Re: Do We Really Need a Project Manager? by Deborah Hartmann

Now that you mention it, Boris, I notice that this article imo doesn't talk so much about a position title as about people with that particular title.

I agree: those with real people skills, who can be practical and can "get" servant leadership will be useful to both teams and customers - but their old job title won't make much sense any more :-)

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